If you type "greatest punt return ever" into Google, this is the second hit:
This was a play designed by new Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub, back in 2011 when he was with the Bears. It is a shame the return didn’t count, nullified by a penalty, because it’s a gorgeous mix of genius and guts and playfulness.
Whenever I think of Toub, as I did reading Randy Covitz’s story the other day, I usually think of that play. I would LOVE to see Toub do something similar here in Kansas City, but we’re also aware that opposing teams can also type "greatest punt return ever" into Google and will plan accordingly.
Anyway, Toub, more than any player, is the star of the Chiefs’ preseason so far. As Randy notes, the Chiefs had a 79-yard kickoff return by Knile Davis and a 55-yard punt return by Dexter McCluster in New Orleans, and of course the 104-yard kickoff return by Quintin Demps (who played for Andy Reid in Philadelphia) was the team’s only touchdown against the 49ers. The coverage units have also been tight.
In Chicago, Toub developed a reputation for consistently leading some of the NFL’s best special teams. Their coverage units were usually quite good, but it’s the returns that always capture fans’ attention — and there haven’t been many returners in recent NFL history to capture fan attention like Chicago’s Devin Hester.
Toub, of course, could not bring Hester to Kansas City. So in a way, his time with the Chiefs will serve as a bit of a test about whether his return teams can make as big an impact without Hester’s brilliance. The Chiefs have some good return candidates — McCluster, especially, fits the profile but we’ve been saying that ever since he came into the league.
We’ll have to wait to see what happens during the regular season to make any real judgments, obviously. But for now maybe it’s informative to see how Toub did without Hester in Chicago (we can multitask, doing this AND waiting for the Royals’ offense to stop sucking).
There were times Hester took a break from returns, and times where his teammates were getting the bulk of returns as teams just stopped kicking to Hester. But I’m using the games where Hester didn’t play, because those are the times he couldn’t have an impact —even in forcing opposing teams to prepare for him during the week.
Game three in 2008, a 27-24 overtime loss to the Bucs
Danieal Manning: 4 kick returns, 108 yards, 27.0 average.
Nathan Vasher: 3 punt returns, 25 yards, 8.3 average.
Game 13 in 2009, a 21-14 loss to the Packers
Rashied Davis: 3 kick returns, 55 yards, 18.3 average
Johnny Knox: 1 kick return, 12 yards
Manning: 1 kick return, 26 yards
Earl Bennett: 2 punt returns, -2 yards, -1.0 average
Game 14 in 2009, a 31-7 loss to the Ravens
Davis: 2 kick returns, 29 yards, 14.5 average
Knox: 1 kick return, 31 yards
Manning: 3 kick returns, 67 yards, 22.3 average
Bennett: 4 punt returns, 76 yards, 19.0 average (1 touchdown)
Game 15 in 2009, a 36-30 overtime win over the Vikings
Devin Aromashodu: 1 kick return, 18 yards
Bennett: 1 kick return, 22 yards
Davis: 1 kick return, 9 yards
Knox: 1 kick return, 31 yards
Manning: 3 kick returns, 134 yards, 44.7 average
Bennett: 3 punt returns, 6 yards
Game 12 in 2012, a 23-17 loss to the Seahawks
Bennett: 1 kick return, 6 yards
Eric Weems: 3 kick returns, 65 yards, 21.7 average
Weems: 1 punt return, 0 yards
So, that’s a total of 26 kick returns for 613 yards, a 23.6 average; and 13 punt returns for 105 yards (and the one touchdown), an 8.1 yard average.
Last year, teams averaged 23.6 yards per kickoff return and 9.7 yards per punt return. Those numbers are fairly consistent over the seasons we’re looking at here; a bit high, but within a yard or so. Hester, if you’re curious, has averaged 23.9 yards on 170 kick returns (five touchdowns) and 12.1 yards on 246 punt returns (12 touchdowns).
We can all draw our own conclusions, of course, and should keep in mind the small sample size we’re looking at. But, if nothing else, I see numbers showing that Toub’s kickoff return teams were virtually unaffected without Hester and that the punt teams weren’t too far off the league average.
Toub’s time in Kansas City will give us all a better idea of how to divide the credit. So far, the signs are positive for Chiefs fans.